"The Crucible" Character Study: Reverend John Hale

The Idealistic Witch Hunter Who Sees the Truth

The Crucible

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In the midst of chaos, with accusations flying and emotional outbursts all around him, one character from Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" remains calm. This is the Reverend John Hale, the idealistic witch hunter.

Hale is the compassionate and logical minister who comes to Salem to investigate claims of witchcraft after young Betty Parris is struck with a mysterious illness. Though it is his specialty, Hale does not immediately call out any sorcery. Instead, he reminds the Puritans that protocol is better than rash conclusions.

By the end of the play, Hale shows his compassion, and though it is too late to save those accused in the witch trials, he has become an endearing character to the audience. Hale is one of playwright Arthur Miller's most memorable characters: He is a man who means well but was misguided by his fervent belief that witchcraft was rampant in the colonies.

Who Is Reverend John Hale?

A specialist in seeking out Satan’s disciples, Reverend Hale travels to New England towns wherever rumors of witchcraft are present. He might be thought of as a Puritan version of the FBI agents in the classic TV drama, “The X-Files.”

Reverend Hale has some salient, and mostly sympathetic, characteristics:

  • He is a young minister dedicated to vanquishing witchcraft, but he is also somewhat naive.
  • He has a critical mind and strong intelligence, particularly in the study of his specialty.
  • He is compassionate, calm, and willing to fully dissect any allegations of witchcraft prior to drawing definitive conclusions.
  • He does not get caught up in the fervor of Salem's witch hunts but keeps a level head.
  • He approaches the "witch problems" with logic (or at least what he believes is scientific).

At first, the audience might find him to be just as self-righteous as the play's villain Reverend Parris. However, Hale seeks out witches because, in his own misguided way, he wants to rid the world of evil. He speaks as though his methods are logical and scientific when, in fact, he uses wives' tales and mythology to root out so-called demons.

Why Hale's "Devil Line" Didn't Get Laughs

One of the more interesting lines from the play is when Reverend Hale is speaking with Parris and the Putnams. They claim that witches are in Salem, but he contends that they should not jump to conclusions. He states, "We cannot look to superstition in this. The Devil is precise." 

Arthur Miller notes that this line "never raised a laugh in any audience that has seen this play." Why did Miller expect Hale's line to generate laughter? Because, to Miller, the concept of the Devil is inherently superstitious. Yet, to people such as Hale, and apparently many audience members, Satan is a very real being and therefore the joke about superstition fell flat.

When Reverend Hale Sees the Truth

Hale's change of heart, however, stems from his intuition. Ultimately, in the climactic third act, Hale feels that John Proctor is telling the truth. The once-idealistic reverend openly denounces the court, but it is too late. The judges have already made their deadly ruling.

Reverend Hale is heavy with guilt when the hangings take place, despite his prayers and impassioned protests.